Thursday, April 2, 2009

LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP - PART I

Mid 70s at Air Force base, Lohegaon, Poona (then). Our new boss, G, had just taken over, and he was a man in a hurry, who wanted every one to perform. We, the younger lot, loved it because he was determined to bring some life into our laid back way of doing things. (Our previous boss, a Super Connie pilot, could not hurt a fly and thus let everyone do their own thing, with the result that things moved like the good old Hindu rate of growth..very slowly). He was qualified on the Canberra and had taken over our mixed squadron operating the Canberra and the Super Constellation aircraft in the maritime strike and maritime reconnaissance roles respectively. His decisions were like a good Commander, as per my private defintion of a good commander. My definition of a good officer is one who follows all rules, as given in the book; a bad officer is one who breaks rules; and a good commander is one who intelligently interprets the spirit of the rules. Later in life, I learnt a term through another one of my commander's that said, "if one puts the butt of the rifle on one's shoulder, no body will question". This meant taking the recoil of reaction, if things go wrong. Commanders are people who get things done without breaking the spirit of the rules, rather than hide behind the rule book seeking endless clarifications from higher ups. One day 'G' caught me in the corridor. I was a young flying officer with just about three years of commissioned service.

He asked me as to what I was up to. Being the youngest in this very senior outfit, I was generally lumped with most duties, which I willingly undertook because of the fact that I even got flying in similar proportions, and I really loved to fly. I answered, "nothing very special". So he told me to think and come up with a flight safety corner for the Canberra flight. I said OK, and the matter ended. About a week later he caught me again in the same place on his way to the aircraft and asked me about the progress of the flight safety corner. In typical Indian government functioning style I replied that I had chosen the corner, thought up an idea but no physical work had been done as yet. "Why", he enquired. I replied, "I need to buy chart paper, ribbon, and other stuff for which I need money and I have not been able to get money for these items from the Officer incharge, who was away on an outstation trip". This really angered G. He lost his cool and gave me one big dressing down, right then and there. His last words left me totally speechless. He said, "You could have spent money from your own pocket in such a situation and it would have been re-imbursed, you donot need to stop work for this reason. This is just an excuse for non-performance and I donot accept it". In my heart of hearts I realised that there was an element of truth in what he said. The entire material would not have cost more than Rs. 100.00. I felt small, and very hurt. As soon as he spared me, I picked up my bike and drove to town and bought all the required stuff; came back to the squadron and went for lunch only on completing the flight safety corner.

In his next visit my boss made it a point to notice the corner, called for me and gave me a pat on the back in public with words of encouragement. He added further that this is how work should be done. I will never forget this incident as it taught me a lot of about work and its rightful place in our life; procrastination, silly excuses; the manner of dressing down and thumping someone's back at the right time. I learnt many things from this boss and from all the bosses that followed him during my journey over the years. One's leadership style is an amalgam of all these small incidents that one picks up while serving under various leaders.

This incident taught me of the need, and manner, to chide someone; always in private and how important it was to praise the same person in public for a job well done after that. It is important to never belittle the individual but focus on the task not done, poorly done or well done. I also picked up another fact from this incident and always demanded a firm date from my subordinates by which the task would be completed; always noted that in my diary in their presence, and then demanded accountability from them - just a way of ensuring that people live up to their words and have the capacity to assess the requirements of the task.

4 comments:

Reflections said...

That was a lovely example......it showed many facets of human tendencies.
And my ex-boss was the same...took a date from us & didnt ask anything after tht..u knw, just let us take the responsibility. It used to unnverve us a bit...so we were watchful not to get caught or rather not to be found wanting;-P.

J P Joshi said...

Thank you Nancy. It sure does help to have good bosses - one learns a lot from them. It helps everyone and the organisation too.

Balvinder Singh said...

JP yes, at times one learns a lesson which changes one's very outlook and the work style. I also remember a number of dressing downs by my superiors which actually helped me in fine tuning my style of functioning. Thanks for sharing your experience.

J P Joshi said...

Thanks Balvinder. I had many fine bosses and of course my style of leadership was a reflection of what I had learned, and adapted, from each one of them.